PHOENIX (CN) – The Department of Justice sued the Maricopa County sheriff, claiming Joe Arpaio failed to hand over documents during the Justice Department’s investigation of Arpaio’s immigration enforcement operations. Prosecutors said it is the first time in 30 years that a state agency has refused to cooperate with a federal investigation. The Justice Department said it sued after “exhausting all cooperative measures to gain access to [the sheriff department’s] documents and facilities,” since its investigation began in 2009.
The Justice Department is investigating complaints of discrimination against Hispanics in Arpaio’s police practices and jail.
“Despite notice of their obligation to comply in full with the United States’ requests for information, defendants have refused to do so,” according to the federal complaint. “Defendants’ refusal to cooperate with reasonable requests for information regarding the use of federal funds is a violation of Defendants’ statutory, regulatory, and contractual obligations.”
“The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities.”
The lawsuit comes two months after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to block Arizona’s tough immigration laws. The two lawsuits are not related.
Arpaio’s agency has also been sued by civil rights attorneys who say Arpaio and his office did not provide them with documents relating to immigration sweeps. A federal judge later ruled that the department had destroyed documents.
Civil liberties groups noted the irony of Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff,” being sued for failing to produce documents, after his repeated, highly publicized raids in and around Phoenix, asking people for documents.